Over the course of the past few days, I’ve been spending a bit of time with the Obisidian’s latest endeavors back into cRPGs, a genre that has taken the world by storm in the last couple of years. Games such as Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Divinity 2: Original Sin and Blackguard 2 all stand as a testament to what good cRPGs are. Among them is a slightly lesser-known title, one that should stand out more than it does, and one that comes with its own unique touch into an already well-established genre: Pillars of Eternity.
Within my first couple of hours with the preview version of their upcoming sequel, Pillars of Eternity 2: Dreadfire, which takes acknowledge of all the previous titles past successes and successfully expands upon them in every way possible including technical designs, aesthetic touches, and even the story itself. In many ways, it’s best said this way: Pillars of Eternity 2: Dreadfire successfully expands upon the Pillars IP in both fantastic and exciting ways.
Just as it is in any beta, the first steps to getting started in the press beta are generally small, the same can be said with Pillars of Eternity II: Dreadfire, which introduced us to a new locale, a small island by the name of Tikawara. This small island is home to the Huana tribe, a native peoples to the Dreadfire Archipelago, and their situation is dire from the opening seconds. The Huana people are starving as their resources of food have become scarce in recent days.
In order to attempt to save the day in comes the group known as The Vailian Trading Company. In hopes of working with the native peoples, the trading company has brought with them the initiative to work with the locals in order to find “high-value goods”. While any good person knows their goals, it’s not hard to look through their smoke and mirrors and understand what they are after, but that aside, the story on regardless of the fact we see through their deception.
Just like most betas or early access, our characters start out at a higher level than a games introductory bit. For the sake of the beta, Obsidian Games started us out at level 6, bypassing any form of the tutorial or introduction phases that will be introduced in the full release, because of this streamlined experience, I was able to jump into the first bit of the game without much trouble.
But before we get to the actual game, let’s talk about a few other things. Just as with any cRPG that’s worth its weight in stone, PoE2 does what you would expect: create a character, choose your difficulty, and even your characters class before getting started. Difficulties scale from the easiest mode Story to the hardest mode that only die-hard fans and cRPG experts would probably play aptly named Path of the Damned.
Once having chosen your character’s gender, you’ve quickly whisked away to choosing one of six races including the Aumaua, Dwarf, Elf, Godlike, Human, and Orlan. Of course, there’s even more under the hood including a variety of subraces to choose from. Just like any good cRPG, you are even given the chance to create a backstory for your character, allowing you to personalize them so that they are your very own character and one that you will enjoy as time goes on.
Due to our accelerated leveling, which streamlined the experience as mentioned previously, the chance to level up active, passive, and combat skills were handed out to us so that upgrading a character was fully possible so that you may wield various weapons throughout the course of your adventure. Just like most cRPGs skills and points are only given out every so often, most commonly stated at every-other-level. Depending on the skills chosen between your character’s Active Skills, Passive Skills, Class(es), Race, and Gender, you will frequently see new discussion options become available while exploring the world about you.
The first hour in, I was quickly introduced to my first string of quests, one where I needed to take on a few small quests including my need to leave Tikawara, but couldn’t. I ran into trouble trying to find the few items I needed, which included finding a set of keys for a ship, which would allow me the chance to leave the the island as needed, unfortunately, my trouble wasn’t because of my poor choice in what to scavenge and not: after all, I looted everything, including pickpocketing every unfortunate soul I could. The only downside to this all? Much as expected, I needed to change my games resolution from what I had set it at so that I could actually see the keys lying about.
Upon my arriving at the new island, I was quickly introduced to my band of merry men, a group of default mercs rather than named characters I’d prefer to have chosen myself through a freshly-made party. Much like any default group, my party consisted of the following: A Cleric, Wizard, Fighter, and Rogue, my character being what would be considered a Mind Hunter due to my specialized cross-classing setup. Much like other titles in the genre, players do have the option to move through the interface as they please in order to take control of the default fighting behaviors of their party.
As intended, I decided to make my team operate to how I preferred, micromanaging their every action including when they would decide to use what abilities, when they would use equipped items, and how they would react to certain events that occur. While outside of the menu, cRPG newcomers and veterans alike have a chance to learn the games intricately designed party systems, ones that will become highly effective when the game launches. Let alone can you customize their behaviors on the fly, players can also change party formations on the fly during every encounter.
While this team management sounds like it could be hard to handle, the game is actually rather well designed, guiding players with well-rounded tool-tips to inform them what their choices do. Aside from these enhanced features from the previous entry, PoE 2: Dreadfire also excels at a franchise first: ship-based combat. In a sense, this newly added feature includes ships, this ship is your fort – so to speak – which allows players to customize and improve upon it as you make your way through the game. Just like any game featuring ships, players do have a crew of which they are required to manage.
When it comes to managing crews, the game is rather straightforward, allowing players to assign them their very own job, each coming with their own unique roles that they will play throughout the game. In order to level up your crew, players will be tasked with taking on ship-to-ship battles, where they will go up against a variety of enemy boats. Just like the enemies players will face, players can also obtain their very own ships, each which can be customized in a variety of ways including cannons, hulls, and sales, all of which make the ship stronger. In the full release, it is emphasized that these items will be unlocked in their own number of different ways, each piece of equipment is suited for a specific ship and seemingly enhances each one differently.
Unlike the rest of the game that players will explore, ship combat works a bit differently as ship combat is turn-based with all of its actions taking place in both rounds and actions as they are executed. Just like any turned based-RPG, the game does decide on the pace of combat based on behind-the-scenes dice rolls where players are given a designated “int” roll before combat begins. Once completed, just like other games, combat is a must-experience in order to learn it. Luckily, it only took me two attempts to get through it, the second time around only leading to minor damage to my boat.
Just as you would expect, travel in the game is completed by moving from island to island by the use of your ship. Embarking between islands is rather important within the game as it provides not just a massive change in how the game plays, but also a unique way to experience a title such as this. The best part of this game isn’t just how much its improved upon every feature upon the previous title, but its map is even better: it’s absolutely massive and it makes the first title pale in comparison to how much there will be to explore.
In short, even with a couple of hours long beta, the game itself is only a small slice of what potential the game has to show. In short, this game already has shown great potential from the previous title and even continually shows the insurmountable love the developers have within their games. Each system from the character creation to combat themselves are intricately designed, everything feels as if it has meaning clear down from player classes to their skills being made.
With the release coming up on April 3, 2018, there’s a lot to look forward to in this massive title and it’s one that works out all the technical bits the game has to see. As a cRPG title, Pillars of Eternity 2: Dreadfire will have a lot to offer and will continue to improve the very foundations it was inspired by.
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPGs, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.